Angels’ Richards ready to return after 2 years of injuries

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Sure, Garrett Richards realizes his luck has been pretty bad the past couple of seasons when it comes to injuries.

He’s not interested in dwelling on all the time he missed, all the countless hours of rehab that seemed as if they’d never end, rather turning his attention to what he can do to help the Los Angeles Angels now that he’s healthy at last.

A year ago, Richards had prepared to pitch for a full season after working his way back from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow for which he had stem-cell therapy instead of the more common Tommy John reconstructive surgery. Then he got hurt again in his 2017 season debut. Immediately, another season cut short.

With a rare biceps nerve irritation issue, no less – his elbow was sound and intact.

”You’re frustrated. You put in a lot of work to get back, you do everything you’re supposed to do and you go through the trial period, can you do this? All the doubts, being down on yourself. You get through all that and then to have it happen again, it’s frustrating and it’s back to the beginning,” he said. ”You try and get as good as you can that day. You look back and eventually it’s three months down the road or whatever.”

It tested his patience.

Yet as he rehabbed again, Richards refused to get too far ahead of himself in what can be a daunting process.

He wanted owner Arte Moreno and general manager Billy Eppler to know he would do all he could to regain his old form.

”This is what I love to do and I have an obligation to this team to give them everything I possibly have,” said Richards, who received a $7.3 million, one-year contract for 2018. ”Not only for my teammates but for Arte, Billy, I have an obligation to give them everything I have on a yearly basis and try to win as many games as possible. When I’m hurt, I owe it to them to try and get back as fast as possible. That’s the way I look at it. So that’s the kind of mindset I have when I go into it.”

The 29-year-old Richards pitched April 5, then not again for the Angels until Sept. 5, building up his arm strength by starting over in a throwing program. Richards has made only six starts in each of the past two years.

Everyone is eager for a new beginning, especially with Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani in the mix and smiling at every chance. The pitcher and hitter dresses near Richards in the clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

”We really feel that we’re a very talented starting rotation,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. ”A big thing is the health. What we’re trying to do is obviously monitor these guys. Garrett’s one of a number of guys. As dominant as Garrett was three years ago, it’s not outside the realm of possibility he can regain that, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Richards won a career-high 15 games in 2015 with his most innings ever at 207 1/3, and he had 13 wins the year before that.

Last April at Oakland and back on a big league mound for the first time in 11 months, Richards pitched beautifully before he experienced some cramping in his biceps. He left abruptly in the fifth inning and said afterward it was as if someone had punched him in his pitching arm. At that point, both Richards and Scioscia hoped the right-hander would be fine for his next start.

”For whatever reason it was damaged or whatever happened, basically my bicep just kind of shut down,” Richards said. ”It was a nerve issue. … It’s not a common thing whatsoever.”

Richards returned to make five starts in September, going 0-2. The great thing about spending his offseasons in Chandler, Arizona, is that he could train at the Angels’ facility over the winter.

”I had a normal offseason this offseason, which was cool,” Richards said. ”I got to do some good training and get ready to go. You try and put yourself in the best shape and the best possible chance to stay healthy all year through the offseason and I feel really great right now, so that’s all I could ask for right now.

”I think every spring it feels like a new start,” Richards added. ”But for me personally I’m just happy to be back playing baseball.”

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